- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004


The makers of the impotency drug Viagra and the painkiller OxyContin said yesterday they will add radio transmitters to the shipping bottles of their pills to fight counterfeiting.

The technology will allow the medicines to be tracked electronically from production plant to pharmacy, a development the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said is an important tool to combat the small but growing problem of drug counterfeiting.

The devices will be part of the large bottles that manufacturers ship to drugstores and wholesalers, not the containers that consumers take home from their pharmacies. Most counterfeiting occurs in the wholesale distribution of medicines, FDA officials said.

Shipments of OxyContin bottles with the transmitters will begin this week to two large customers — Wal-Mart and wholesaler H.D. Smith — the drug manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, announced.

Pfizer Inc. plans to start shipping bottles of Viagra with radio-frequency identification, or RFID, by the end of next year, Pfizer spokesman Bryant Haskins said.

“We’re starting with Viagra because it is probably the best-known and one of the most counterfeited pharmaceutical products,” Mr. Haskins said.

Pfizer, which sells more than $1.5 billion worth of Viagra a year, said it will spend several million dollars to add RFID tags to Viagra bottles.

OxyContin is a powerful narcotic that has become a target for drug abusers who figured out how to use it for a quick, heroin-like high. The new bottles also should help authorities and the company in its battle against theft of OxyContin from pharmacies, said Aaron Graham, Purdue Pharma’s vice president of corporate security.

“If a police officer catches someone with a couple of bottles, we can trace them back to the pharmacy they were stolen from. That’s a huge step forward,” Mr. Graham said.

The FDA, which must approve labeling changes, said yesterday it would allow drug makers that use RFID wide latitude in designing the new labels.

The RFID tags look like ordinary labels but are really computer chips with antennas wrapped around them. The tag works like a passport, picking up a notation at each stage of the distribution chain when the chip is activated.

Sensors at distribution centers use radio waves to activate the tags, which are read electronically and stamped with a record of where they have been.

A counterfeit drug would have no such record.

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